IOWA CITY, Iowa — Derrick Foster is from the South. He played college football in southern Missouri and has coached all around the region.
Yes, he is as southern as biscuits and gravy, barbecue, and shrimp and grits. The South is an ideal recruiting spot, especially Atlanta ― the biggest metropolitan area in the southeast outside of Miami and a hotbed of high school football talent. There is only one hold up.
“We’ve hinted at some things, but haven’t really decided where exactly I am going to be,” said Foster, who joined the Iowa coaching staff in January. “No matter where I am, whether it’s in the South or the Midwest or the west part of the map, I look forward to recruiting anywhere they put me.”
There is no reason to overthink it. Foster is well-connected in Atlanta. Iowa is trying to plant seeds in the fertile recruiting territory. The Hawkeyes’ best shot at growing a fruitful relationship in the area could come with the Alabama native recruiting Georgia.
It’s as obvious of a move as letting Foster coach running backs and sliding offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz to work with the tight ends.
Atlanta pros and cons
In the end, it’s likely what will happen, but coach Kirk Ferentz showed some hesitation when asked about Foster recruiting Atlanta on National Signing Day.
“I’m still wrestling with the Atlanta, the Georgia [area]; the quality of football down there is great, not unlike Ohio,” Ferentz said. “Bradley Chubb was a guy that was on our list. Never made a trip here. The key is can you get them on campus? That’s the key. Anytime you go further away [getting the players on campus becomes a concern]. That’s something we’re going to talk about in the weeks ahead.”
You always remember the ones who got away. Chubb, a former 3-star prospect, blossomed into the 2017 Nagurski Award winner and a potential top 5 NFL draft pick this spring.
The inability to get Chubb on campus — arguably the most important part of the recruiting process — is the biggest struggle. It’s tougher to get a prospect nearly 13 hours away to Kinnick Stadium than one who is a three-hour drive away. It’s why most of Iowa’s recruits are midwestern kids.
But the potential benefits of Atlanta are worth the effort.
Georgia isn’t as packed with talent as the Olympic Village in South Korea is this week, but it’s not far behind. It’s the fourth-best state for high school talent ― trailing Texas, Florida and California ― according to a SB Nation study from 2016.
Atlanta is a long drive, but it’s a short 150-minute flight to the Cedar Rapids International Airport. Delta’s non-stop flights into Iowa might not seem like a key, but they are vital to Iowa’s ability to recruit the area.
“Anytime you can prevent a kid from getting on two planes the better,” Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell said. “You go into Atlanta, and those kids can be in Iowa in two hours. You can go into Detroit and those kids can be in Iowa in an hour.
“So all those things are important in terms of what areas you’re actually going to recruit. [Where] are you spending your resources and what kind of return are you getting?”
The Hawkeyes already have stepped their toes in Georgia and gotten a return on their investment, landing a prospect in each of the last two classes: cornerback Trey Creamer in 2017 and linebacker Jayden McDonald in 2017.
Why a Derrick Foster-Atlanta connection makes sense
The key to recruiting is relationships. The stronger the ties to an area, the better a coach can recruit.
From his time at Tennessee, Northwestern State, Valdosta State and Samford, Foster is connected in the junior college ranks, but his best ties are in Atlanta and the South.
“It’s all about relationships,” Bell said. “It would be foolish to not put a coach in a place where he has ties. Because those are the guys who are going to tell you the real deal with these kids.”
Bell wasn’t talking specifically about Foster and Atlanta. Still, it further proves why Foster should recruit the region.
Iowa believes in keeping coaches in their best recruiting territory. Last year, linebackers coach Seth Wallace handed over Wisconsin recruiting because he knew new offensive line coach Tim Polasek understood the state better than anyone else.
“So when he officially signed on I raised my hand, threw up the white flag and said, ‘You can take the state and they can put me somewhere else,’” Wallace said last March. “He’s really good, he’s really thorough, and he’s got a ton of relationships up there. He knows everybody. Everybody knows him. So it’s a perfect fit.”
Wallace is likely to do the same with Foster. He recruits Georgia now, but Foster is the ideal lead recruiter for the state.
Remember, Wallace brought Foster, an offensive coach, along for the final in-home visit with McDonald, a defensive player, in January.
— *Kristi* (@KrisLMc) February 1, 2018
Ferentz hedged on Foster and Atlanta, but odds are the connection will win out. Because one fact trumps Ferentz’s concerns.
Foster recruiting Atlanta increases Iowa’s chances of landing the next Chubb. That alone is reason enough to send him there.